Debunking a Maltese myth on succession of foreign titles.
The British Colonial Government finally admitted (1878-1883) as titles extant during the Government of the Order of Saint John (1530-1798) a total number of 31 titles.
According to published sources it appears that the latter 31/32 titles of Nobility are under the “control” of the Committee of Privileges of the Maltese Nobility.
However, of these 31/32 titles, some are in fact of foreign origin. More precisely, these titles are:
- The recognized (1725) title of Barone di Castel Cicciano (cr: 1695) (Neapolitan)
- The recognized (1722) title of Conte (Wzzini Paleologo) cr: 1722) (Gauci states this title as a Papal one created in 1711)
- The recognized (1725) title of Marchese (Testaferrata) di San Vincenzo Ferreri (1716) (In his 1992 publication Gauci concludes this to be a Maltese title granted in 1725)
- The registered (1720) title of Conte (Preziosi) (cr: 1718) (Title originated in Savoy but stated by Royal Commissioners to be Sicilian)
- The registered (1743) title of Marchese (de Piro) (cr: 1742) (Spanish)
- The registered (1775) title of Conte (Fournier de Pausier) (cr: 1770) (Germanic)
- The registered title (1775) of Conte (Sant) (cr: 1770) (originated in the Italian Provinces of Germany)
- The recognized title (1797-98??) of Conte (Manduca) (cr: 1776) which is related to the earlier twice-registered (1721 and 1744) and extinct title of Conte (Piscopo) di Mont’Alto (cr: 1720) (originated in the Duchy of Parma and Piacenza)
- The registered (1778) title of Barone (Ciantar)di San Giovanni (cr: 1777) which is related to the earlier (recognized??-) extinct title of Barone (Abela) di San Giovanni (cr: 1657) (Sicilian)
According to certain published sources although these 9 titles are indicated as of foreign origin, these publications imply that they are to be succeeded as any local title. That is to say that according to those sources, a foreign title is to be succeeded by Maltese Law.
We have seen, in other parts of this series, that this is a fundamental error and we have brought forward various arguments which cogently reinforce the view that foreign titles are to remain subject to the law of the country of origin, highlighting in particular the various considerations regarding the titles of Marquis De Piro (Spanish), Baron of Castel Cicciano (Neapolitan), Marquis of San Vincenzo Ferreri (said to be Neapolitan) and Count of Mont’ Alto (Parma). The conclusion reached is that for a foreign title (i.e. including all of the aforesaid 9 titled) to be succeeded, the succession must be made in accordance with the law where the title originated.
The criticism that this contrary view has received, is that there is no way to demonstrate how the succession of a foreign title was treated by the Grand Masters during their reign (1530-1798) except for the observations and conclusions of the British-appointed Royal Commission into the claims of the Maltese Nobility (1878).
In this article, we discuss official documents regarding the succession of the title of Count of Mont’ Alto. The title was registered in Malta in 1721 and therefore enjoyed precedence according to the rules of 1739 and 1795. This title is to be classified in the first of the two categories of foreign titles in Malta, namely a foreign title recognized by the Grand Masters. The title was extended in favour of a collateral in 1724 but this was not registered in Malta until the year 1744.
It will be recalled that two “Manduca” titles were considered by the Royal Commissioners appointed to enquire into the claims of the Maltese Nobility, one in Item V of Section III of the Report under “title of Conte di Mont’ Alto” and the other in Item XI of Section III of the Report under “title of Conte presumed to have been conferred upon Salvatore Manduca”. In this paper we are focusing on the former. This title of Count of Mont’ Alto is reported by the Commissioners as originating in 1720, year when the title was conferred to Bernardo Piscopo by the Duke of Parma and Piacenza.
Felice Manduca Piscopo was the grandson of a sister of the original grantee Bernardo Piscopo. In 1744 Felice, describing himself as “humble servant and vassal” applied to the Grand Master to register the succession of the title of Count of Mont’ Alto. The applicant explained that he had succeeded Bernardo in the antique comital fief of Mont’ Alto in the State of Parma, and that this succession had been accepted by an act of the year 1739 by the Duke of Parma and another of the year 1741 by the King of Hungary, who was the actual sovereign of the said State of Parma. He went on to explain that he was desirous to register the documents in the Cancellaria where the original patent was already registered. The applicant undertook to meet all the usual obligations necessary to register similar successions. The applicant therefore requested the Grand Master to allow the registration of the documents in the Cancellaria, ordering that the originals be returned. On the 14th July 1744 Grand Master Pinto ordered that the documents be registered.
All this documentation may be found under Volume 548 of the Archives of the Order, at the National Library at Valletta, Malta. [It should be noted that some of the documents registered were in fact not originals but notarized copies].
The full text is reproduced below.
A number of considerations arise from all this, but perhaps the most telling is that Felice Manduca Piscopo would never have been registered in Malta as having succeeded the title, had he not succeeded the title in accordance with the laws of the country where that title originated. As the 19th century Commissioners observed (para. 102) “We cannot, in fact, suppose that the Grand Masters were disposed to recognize, without any investigation, and as a matter independently of their own sovereign assent and approbation, as Titolati in their own dominion, any persons indiscriminately who should have obtained a title of nobility from any foreign sovereign. We do not mean to imply that in the absence of registration, a direct recognition by the Grand Masters would have no effect, on the contrary, as the registration of the patent (considering the way in which it was made, and adverting to the principles or law on the subject) was intended to express the decision of the sovereign to recognize the title, we are of opinion that an acknowledgment of a foreign title, made directly by a Grand Master, must be taken to be, in its effects, equivalent to the said registration.”, had the registration or recognition of the mere grant been regarded as sufficient to ‘render Maltese’ a foreign title, Felice need not have requested the registration of the succession. That the foreign sovereign’s assent is required is more acute when one considers that the ducal act of 1739 was not enough to ensure succession and it was the 1741 Hungarian act of the “actual Sovereign of Parma” that secured Felice’s right to the title.
Turning to the present-day, in regard to the 1716 title of San Vincenzo Ferreri, which has since been proven to be invalid because the foreign grantor was inexistent, some publications assert the argument that because of a 1725 recognition, then that title “must be regarded as a purely Maltese title created by direct Magistral fiat in 1725”. This leads the said publications to conclude that females may come to hold the title. In view of the documentation shown here which clearly demonstrates that the Grand Masters regarded a recognized foreign title as remaining subject to the laws of the land where it originated, the aforesaid argument raised in regard to San Vincenzo Ferreri remains unconvincing at best.
Matters are slightly different in regard to the title of Count Fournier. It will be recalled that the Royal Commissioners’ two Reports (original and supplemental) make a conscientious admission that they were insufficiently acquainted with German laws of succession and accordingly they could not express an opinion about the succession of title of Count Fournier which was claimed by a male descending in the female line. As a matter of fact – and this is oft omitted by the aforesaid publications – the succession of the title of Count Fournier was never decided by anyone. All that we find is a decision of a British Secretary of State for the Colonies which only allows a mere precedency (not a title) based on the fictional assumption that that title “emanated in 1770 from the Sicilian or Maltese Sovereign authority”. By doing so, the Secretary of State neither granted nor perpetuated a title which appears to have become extinct by reason of extinction of the male-to-male line, and only went as far are opening a window to a precedence.